LANSING, Mich. (CN) — Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the state’s Department of Natural Resources sued Friday to end a decades-old easement for Enbridge Energy’s dual pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac, citing a lack of compliance with safety standards.
The Democratic governor and DNR Director Dan Eichinger notified Enbridge on Friday that the 1953 easement has been revoked after an investigation revealed decades of inaction to maintain and improve the pipelines to protect against oil leakage into the Great Lakes.
The lawsuit filed in Ingham County Circuit Court seeks a declaratory judgment that the easement was properly terminated and an injunction stopping Enbridge from operating the twin pipelines.
“After spending more than 15 months reviewing Enbridge’s record over the last 67 years, it is abundantly clear that today’s action is necessary. Enbridge’s historic failures and current non-compliance present too great a risk to our Great Lakes and the people who depend upon them,” Eichinger said in a statement. “Our number one priority is protecting the Great Lakes and we will continue to work with our partners across Michigan in pursuit of that objective.”
The state government’s notice requires Enbridge to permanently cease operations by May 2021 but will not prevent the energy company from efforts to win legal approval for future tunnel construction.
In a statement, Whitmer accused Enbridge of refusing to “take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs.”
“They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk,” the governor said. “Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life. That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and fresh water.”
The Great Lakes region supplies drinking water for 5 million Michiganders and 48 million people overall. It holds 21% of the world’s fresh surface water. Whitmer said a future oil spill accident could potentially affect up to 350,000 jobs in the Wolverine State.
The lawsuit accuses Enbridge of deliberately ignoring mandates for the construction of the pipeline from the very beginning of the agreement in 1953, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States and Enbridge was known as the Lakehead Pipe Line Company.
The terms of the easement called for several safety precautions, such as ensuring that the pipelines were physically supported at least every 75 feet. The complaint alleges Enbridge completely ignored that regulation and failed to take corrective action when unsupported sections exceeded 200 feet in length, with one pipe span stretching more than 420 feet without proper support.
The agreement also required that the pipes be covered by a multilayer coating to prevent corrosion. According to the lawsuit, there was a stunning lack of concern about upkeep of the pipes and an effort to conceal the lack of progress to state officials.
The complaint cites the state’s notice to Enbridge, which says the company did not examine the condition of the pipeline coating despite being on notice for at least 13 years and delayed telling the state about several sections of bare metal.
The energy company has struggled to maintain a safe environment for the pipelines in recent years. In April 2018, the lines were struck and dented in three different locations when an anchor was accidently dropped and dragged by a commercial vessel. In June of this year, Enbridge announced they were damaged again last year by anchors or cables deployed by nearby vessels that chipped away at pipeline coatings. Four of the five vessels potentially responsible for the impacts were operated by Enbridge’s own contractors.
In June 2019, Whitmer directed the DNR to undertake a review of Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 easement. The completion of that review triggered the notice and lawsuit.